I was visiting with my sisters in Seattle when a certified letter arrived in our mailbox back home. I had been checking the Parole Hearing website from Seattle and nothing was showing the schedule. Getting a certified letter is always unsettling, so when my husband Gary told me about mine, I was upset. What was this about? It never occurred to me it would be the prison informing me of the date.

The letter announced that the first Parole Hearing for Mark James Taylor, who murdered my son, Christopher Robin Hotchkiss, on March 21, 1996, would take place on July 26, 2012, at Avenal State Prison, in California.

My daughter, Christina, along with my dear friend Lorie, would be the support team. I decided to keep the group small. Most “lifers” do not get released on their first parole.

For my part, I would be writing a victim impact statement. I live with the impact every day, so writing it was natural. The impact does not haunt me today, but it is not difficult for me to remember the absolute devastation the murder of Christopher caused this family. I did not know if I would ever smile again, laugh again or be able to fully participate in life again. Now I know that the answer to all these is “YES!”

The following was the victim impact statement I read at the hearing:

My name is Radha Stern and I am the mother of Christopher Robin Hotchkiss, who was murdered by Mark James Taylor on March 21, 1996, a day when my life, along with the lives of my family and friends, was changed forever.

I am accompanied today by my daughter, Christina Hotchkiss, and family advisors, Jaimee and Lorie. Thank you for your time today.

I would not be standing in this room today if Mark James Taylor had not murdered my son, Christopher Robin Hotchkiss. I do not feel it is necessary, nor do I desire to bring up the horrific details of the murder committed. I live with the victim impact every day.

I do not feel Mark realizes the consequences of his actions. Mark does not comprehend that there has not been a picture of my son, Christopher, in 16 years; no birthday smiles, no hugs, no sit down talks about the challenges of the world, no family vacations with everyone, no “what’s for dinner mom?”, no wedding and no grandchildren. Christopher would be 38 years old. Mark cut his life short at 21. What was he thinking?

I do not believe that Mark’s thinking has changed much since November, 20 1997, when he was sentenced for this crime of murder. I requested to have a Victim Offender Dialogue with Mark, which was approved by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. I met with Mark in March 2008 to give him the benefit of the doubt and to assess for myself if he had embraced the reality of his actions. Sadly, Mark had not.

In our conversation several years ago, Mark did not take full responsibility for the crime, nor was he aware how his life had led him to take a life. Instead, Mark was still blaming others for what he had done.

I think that this quote from the Dalai Lama is significant today:

“When you think everything is someone else’s fault, you will suffer a lot.”

I wish for Mark’s sake that he would someday face up to the devastation his actions have caused. Mark has traumatized my family by taking the life of my child, our loved one. If he continues to refuse to deal with how his life led to the murder of my son, then two lives have been wasted. Even if Mark remains in the prison community for the rest of his life, he can be a positive change maker–if his heart is opened. Mark does not have to be defined by the worst thing he did in his life. I don’t want Mark to do this for us. Mark needs to do this for himself.

I have been volunteering in prisons for eight years now with Insight Prison Project. I have addressed groups of inmates in classes such as Victim Offender Education Group, GRIP – Guiding Rage into Power–and Katargeo, which is an emotional literacy program. I speak to inmates who wish to understand themselves better, how their life experiences and decisions led them to prison and how their crimes have impacted their victims. I also help offenders understand and take responsibility for the impact of the crimes) they have committed. Mark does not seem to have this desire. It pains me that two lives are being wasted. My son is no longer, here and Mark is not being a productive and positive member of his community by not taking responsibility for his life crime.

I would like to stress during this hearing, that I, along with my entire family and friends, oppose Mark James Taylor’s parole being granted. Until Mark can open his heart and take responsibility for his actions, I will continue to oppose parole.


Radha Stern

Radha Stern Since the murder of her son, Christopher, in 1996, Radha Stern has devoted herself to helping others who have lost a loved one due to a violent crime. She created and maintains her website, Griefprints.com, to share her experiences throughout her journey from the darkness of grief into the light of gratitude. She is active in Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence (formally the Legal Community Against Violence) and the Insight Prison Project, as well as The Compassionate Friends, an organization for parents who have lost a child. Radha is an experienced grant maker, fundraiser, and marketer, and her extensive volunteer activity over the last two decades includes work with trade organizations, advocacy groups, and victim’s rights programs. She is a past member of the Board of Directors for the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation; a program officer for a family philanthropic foundation that supports organizations providing basic services to critical-need populations; and a volunteer at the San Francisco and Marin Food Banks. Radha’ s book, Griefprints: A Practical Guide for Supporting a Grieving Person, will be published this year. She is also a contributor to the inspirational book Courage Does Not Always Roar: Ordinary Women with Extraordinary Courage (Simple Truths, 2010). A native Californian, she lives with her husband, Gary; together they have five children and five grandchildren.

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